Feedback. Part 2.

In last week’s blogpost, which you can read here., I considered how we build the foundations for effective feedback in the classroom. Establishing a culture where feedback is a gift. Creating the culture where both giver and receiver value and trust each other. And ensuring high quality learning and teaching precede and therefore minimise the need for feedback. These were some of the approaches I discussed. I also asked these questions:

How do we ensure that within a busy classroom, teachers racing through the curriculum don’t fall into the trap of feedback which is easy and comfortable? Instead, how do we make use of these optimal conditions for feedback which we have created, and that our practices really maximise the impact?

I think as busy teachers, who absolutely want the best for our young people, often we can be guilty of wanting a ‘silver bullet.’ A quick fix which will create high impact with low effort. From the EEF findings it is clear that Feedback most definitely has the potential for high impact, and for relatively low cost. But the findings don’t mention low effort. Unfortunately there are no simple strategies which can be parachuted into a lesson in isolation which instantly improve feedback. Like many things in education, feedback deserves more than a quick sticky plaster approach. It is not just about completing a feedback task which ticks the box. For feedback to make a difference, it needs to be ingrained as part of the continuous loop. A habit which both teachers and students are well practised in and understand. There are no simple ways to ‘do’ feedback.

Dylan William states ‘’Rather than thinking about feedback as an isolated event, this report makes it clear that feedback is likely to be more effective if it is approached systemically, and specifically.’ By becoming aware of and adopting some of the principles below and embedding them in our practice, we can and will positively impact our learners’.

So apologies but this post will not contain templates of feedback strategies to try or classroom activities to improve feedback. Instead it will unlock some of the characteristics of effective feedback. Notably in a way which allows the teacher to use their professional judgment to decipher the best delivery yet built on the strong principles of what effective feedback might look like.

It is an unfortunate a myth that to be effective, feedback needs to be instant. In fact much of the research on timing of feedback is of mixed evidence. From the EEF report, ‘The evidence regarding the timing and frequency of effective feedback is inconclusive.36 On the one hand, immediate feedback may be effective as it could prevent misconceptions from forming early on. However, delayed feedback could also be beneficial as it may force pupils to fully engage with the work before being given an answer.37 In turn, this may lead to them working hard to retrieve information they’ve already learned, which could help pupils to remember more of the learning.38

Some feedback needs to be instant. For example if it relates to health and safety. We do not want pupils to wait until next lesson to hear that the way they’ve been holding the saw in technical is dangerous. Or waiting til next lesson to remind pupils the correct way to carry a knife in Home economics. Sometimes it needs to be instant. And it can absolutely be more effective in the moment, particularly if it relates to specific errors which if repeated in learning could form dangerous misconceptions. Verbal feedback is advantageous here. Consider the visual nature of art and design, where misconceptions will be very obvious to teachers early on. And therefore straightforward to pinpoint and clearly feedback to pupils before others do the same. This may be quite different to extended written pieces in which it may be more difficult for teachers to recognise during a quick walk around the classroom. The report also suggests that sometimes feedback and subsequent reteaching of a concept after a delayed period is actually more beneficial to pupils as it brings into play the forgetting curve, forcing them to retrieve information from long term memory and indeed strengthening the learning. Therefore there is no best time to give feedback. But importantly, that we do give the feedback. And it focuses on the learning not the task, nor the pupil.

Another consideration is how we can best prepare students to accept the feedback positively and with a view to using it to improve rather than taking it personally. Harry Fletcher Wood discusses this in a blog post here. It specifically mentions how teachers can:

Convey high standards and a belief students can meet those standards ‘I’m giving you this feedback because I know you can get an A on this’, has a dramatic effect on student likelihood to redraft and student grades (Yeager et al., 2014).

If we think about it, it’s often difficult to accept feedback, even as adults. Especially if it contains a suggestion that what we’ve been doing previously hasn’t been good. So by preceding feedback with a comment explaining why you are giving this feedback – because I know you can do better, because I believe you are capable of more, because I want you to achieve even greater success – goes some way to ensuring students know this isn’t personal and instead it comes from a place of genuine care and desire to see them improve. The study by Yeager et al found that students were more likely to adopt a growth mindset and use the feedback to propel them forward when it began with an explanation about why the feedback was being given. Something to consider.

And finally for this post, and this was the absolute game-changer for me; Students need the opportunity to use the feedback. How often do we write out feedback, mark jotters or give whole class verbal feedback for it to be glanced at by learners and then never referred to again? Using effective feedback strategies should be built on the need for pupils to actually practically do something with the feedback. Pupils should be given time to go back and improve, redraft, rewrite or indeed attempt the assessment again in order to show the application of the feedback given. Too often I worry that we are intent on flying through what Mary myatt refers to as the ‘curse of content coverage’ that we forget that pupils need opportunities to show personal improvement. Vitally, this builds pupil confidence in the task and trust in the student/teacher relationship. In the past I’ve asked pupils to redo a prelim having provided feedback to help them improve answers. This can be a useful way to allow pupils to demonstrate the impact which feedback has had on learning. It is worth noting however that it is important to be careful that feedback does not solely focus on task specific improvement. Remember our end goal is not a snapshot performance pupil who can answer one specific question well. Instead feedback should be about the deep learning, and transferable to the next piece of work so that learners can apply knowledge and skills in different contexts.

I hope this has been useful. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Future feedback posts will explore practical feedback strategies in the classroom as well as establishing a culture of effective, honest and open staff feedback.

Have a great week everyone – for many our last before a well deserved break!

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